Frost’s Circus Life and Circus Celebrities
Thomas Frost, Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, London: Chatto and Windus, 1881.
American Circuses - American Performers in England, and English Performers in the United States - The Cookes in America - Barnum's great Show - Yankee Parades- Van Amburgh's Circus and Menagerie - Robinson's combined Shows - Stone and Murray's Circus - The Forepaughs - Joel Warner - Side Shows - Amphitheatres of New York and New Orleans.
THE, circus in America is a highly popular entertainment, and is organized upon a very extensive scale, as everything is there, like the country itself, with its illimitable prairies, rivers thousands of miles long, and lakes like inland seas. Americans have a boundless admiration of everything big; they seem to revel even in 'big' bankruptcies and 'big' fires, such as that which desolated Chicago a few years ago. Circus proprietors bring their establishments before the public, not by vaunting the talent of the company, or the beauty and sagacity of the horses, but by announcing the thousands of square feet which the circus covers, the thousands of dollars to which their daily or weekly expenses amount, and the number of miles to which their parades extend. 'This is a big concern,' say those who read the announcement, and their patronage is proportionate to its extent and cost.
The American circuses are all conducted on the tenting system, and, as there are few towns in the Union which could support one only of the many colossal establishments which travel during the summer, most of them are idle during the winter; many of them are combined with a menagerie, in which cases one charge admits to both. Except in the matter of size, they do not differ materially from tenting circuses in this country; but the tents are larger, the parades longer, and the rifle-targets, the Aunt Sallies, and the acrobats in dirty tights who follow Sanger, and the Ginnetts, and Quaglieni, and other tenting circuses in England, are replaced by small shows, such as attend fairs in this country, and in which giants, dwarfs, albinoes, and monstrosities of various kinds are exhibited.
The interchange of circus performers between England and the United States, which has existed almost as long as circuses, has made us better acquainted in this country with the kind and quality of the performances to be witnessed in American circuses than with the manner in which they are conducted. Stickney and North were known and appreciated at Astley's by the last generation, and the present has seen and admired, at the Holborn Amphitheatre, those inimitable gymnasts, the Brothers Hanlon, the incomparable vaulter, Kelly, and some others. Wallett, the Cookes, and many others, besides French, German, and Italian performers who have appeared in English circuses and music-halls, have found their way to America, and proved as attractive there as here. Four years ago, the Cooke family was represented in the United States by Emily Henrietta Cooke, John Henry Cooke, and George Cooke, prominent members of Stone and Murray's company, and James E. Cooke with French's circus.
The largest circus now travelling is Barnum's, forming a portion of the great combination advertised as the 'Great Travelling World's Fair.' Barnum has long been famous in both hemispheres as the greatest showman in the world. He is certainly a man of remarkable enterprise and energy. He is quick in arriving at conclusions, and when he has resolved upon any undertaking, he exercises all his energy, and brings into force all the results of his long and varied experience, in carrying it into execution.
Coup, a gentleman well known among public entertainers across the Atlantic, said to Barnum one day, 'What do you say to putting a big show on the road?'
'How much will it cost?' inquired Barnum, after a moment's reflection.
‘Two hundred thousand dollars,’ was the reply.
'I'll let you know to-morrow,' said Barnum.
On the following day, he told Coup that 'Barnum's great show' was a fact, and that he (Coup) was to be its manager, as he is to this day. The establishment then formed was, however, far from being the mammoth concern with which the great showman took the field in 1873. Notwithstanding the great loss which he sustained by the burning of the museum which so long attracted attention in the Broadway, New York, at the close of the preceding year, he came before the public a few months afterwards with a circus, a menagerie, a museum, a gallery of pictures and statuary, and a show of mechanical wonders and curiosities, all combined in one, and to which the public were admitted for a single payment of half-a-dollar.
The address to the public with which this colossal combination of entertainments was inaugurated is so unique and characteristic that I need make no apology for inserting it entire.
‘LADIES, GENTLEMEN, FAMILIES, CHILDREN, FRIENDS:
'My career for forty years as a public Manager of amusements, blended with instruction, is well known. You have all heard of my three New York Museums; my great triumphal tour with Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, and my immense travelling exhibitions. Everybody concedes that I give ten times the money's worth, and always delight my patrons. I now come before you with the LAST GRAND CROWNING TRIUMPH OF MY MANAGERIAL LIFE.
‘Notwithstanding the burning of my last Museum, in December (which, however, did not destroy any of my great travelling chariots, vans, cages, or horses, nor duplicates of most of my living wild animals, which were then on exhibition in New Orleans), I have been enabled, through the aid of cable dispatches, electricity and steam, and the expenditure of nearly a million of dollars, to place upon the road by far the largest and most interesting combination of MUSEUM, MENAGERIE, and HIPPODROME ever known before - a veritable WORLD'S FAIR.
'No description will convey an adequate idea of its vastness, its beauty, and its marvellous collection of wonders. It travels by rail, and requires more than one hundred cars, besides FIFTY OF MY OWN, made expressly for this purpose, and five or six locomotives to transport it. My daily expenses exceed $5,000. We can only stop in large towns, and leave it to those residing elsewhere to reach us by cheap excursion trains, which they can easily get UP.
'Among some of my novelties is a FREE FULL MENAGERIE OF WILD ANIMALS, including all, and more than are usually seen in a travelling menagerie, which I now open to be seen by everybody, WITHOUT ANY CHARGE WHATEVER. Although I have consolidated more than twenty shows in one, containing nearly one hundred gorgeously magnificent gold and enamelled cages, dens and vans, requiring the services of nearly 1,000 men and over 500 horses, the price of admission to the entire combination of exhibition is only the same as is charged to a common show, viz. 50 cents; children half price. My great Hippodrome Tent comfortably seats 14,000 persons at one time, while my numerous other tents cover several acres of ground.
‘The Museum Department contains 100,000 curiosities, including Professor Faber's wonderful TALKING MACHINE, costing me $20,000 for its use six months. Also, a National Portrait Gallery of 100 life-size Oil Paintings, including all the Presidents of the United States, our Statesmen and Military Heroes, as well as foreign Potentates and Celebrities, and the entire Collection of the celebrated John Rogers' groups of Historical and Classic Statuary. Also, an almost endless variety of Curiosities, including numberless Automaton Musicians and Mechanicians, and Moving Scenes, Transformation Landscapes, Sailing Ships, Running Water-mills, Railroad Trains, etc., made in Paris and Geneva, more beautiful and marvellous than can be imagined, and all kept in motion by a Steam Engine. Here, also, are Giants, Dwarfs, Fiji Cannibals, Modoc and Digger Indians, Circassian Girls, the No-armed Boy, etc.
'Among the rare wild animals are MONSTER SEA LIONS, transported in great water-tanks; the largest RHINOCEROS ever captured alive, and 1,500 Wild Beasts and Rare Birds, Lions, Elephants, Elands, Gnus, Tigers, Polar Bears, Ostriches, and every description of wild animal hitherto exhibited, besides many never before seen on this Continent.
'In the Hippodrome Department are THREE DISTINCT RINGS, wherein three sets of rival performances are taking place at the same time, in full view of all the audience. Here will be seen Performing Elephants, Horse-riding Goats, Educated Horses, Elk and Deer in Harness, Ponies, Trick Mules, and Bears, and three distinct Equestrian Companies (with six clowns), including by far the best Male and Female Bare-back Riders in the World, with numerous Athletes and Gymnasts who have no equal. Everything is perfectly chaste and unobjectionable. Its like will never be known.
‘THE GREAT STREET-PROCESSION, three miles long, takes place every morning at half-past eight o'clock. It is worth going 100 miles to see. It consists of trains of Elephants, Camels, Dromedaries, Zebras, and Elks in harness; nearly 100 Gold Enamelled and Cerulean Chariots, Vans, Dens, and Cages; Arabian Horses, Trick Ponies, three Bands of Music, and a most marvellous display of Gymnastic, Automatic, and Musical performances in the public streets.
I THREE FULL EXHIBITIONS will be given each day at ten, one, and seven o'clock. No one should miss the early Procession.
The Public's Obedient Servant,
‘P. T. BARNUM.'
The circus department of this unrivalled combination show is managed by Dan Castello, who is described in the bills as 'a gentleman of rare accomplishments as a jester and conversationalist, whose varied and ripe experience in Continental Europe, and North and South America, render his services of great value.' The company comprised Celeste Pauliere, the dashing bare-back rider of the Cirque Francais; D'Atalie, 'the man with the iron jaw,' who appeared a year or two ago at some of the London music-halls; the Sisters Marion, who then appeared in America for the first time; Frank Barry, Vinnie Cook, Montenard and Aymar, Madame Aymar, Marie Girardeau, and Carlotta Davioli: and among performers less known on this side of the Atlantic, Lucille Watson, Angela (‘the female Samson'), Sebastian and Romeo, the Mathews family, Lazelle and Millison, the Bliss family, Bushnell, Nathan, Nichols, Lee, and Hopper.
The grand parade is a thing to be seen once in a life, and talked of ever afterwards. Here I must let the Prince of Showmen, as Barnum has been called, speak for himself; no other's pen could do justice to the theme. ‘The grand street pageant,' says one of his bills, 'which heralds the advent into each town of the longest and grandest spectacular demonstration ever witnessed, is nearly three miles in length. Prominent among the grand and attractive features of the innumerable caravan, are the twelve golden chariots, eight statuary and four tableau, including the gorgeous moving Temple of Juno, 30 feet high, built in London at a cost of $20,000, the musical Chariot of Mnemosyne, the revolving Temple of the Muses, the great steam Calliope, three bands of music, and one hundred resplendent cages and vans.
'These magnificently gilded Palaces and Dens, plated and elaborated by the most cunning artisans, after vivid designs and gorgeous impersonations from the Dreams of Hesiod, are drawn in the Great Procession by trained Elephants, Camels, Dromedaries, Arabian Thoroughbreds, Liliputian Ponies, herds of Elk and Reindeer in harness, and a gorgeously caparisoned retinue of dapple Steeds and Shetland Palfreys. They are of such rich and varied attractions as to excite the envy of a CROESUS or BELLEROPHONTES.
'The Great Procession will be interspersed with grotesque figures, such as automaton gymnasts, mechanical trapezists, globe and ball jugglers, comic clowns, and athletic sports, performing on the tops of the cages and chariots, in open streets, all the difficult feats of the celebrated living gymnasts. The different brass bands, musical chariots, Polyhymnian organs, steam pianos, and Calliopes, &c., are equivalent to one hundred skilful musicians. Persons anxious to see the procession should come early, as three performances a day are given to accommodate the multitudes, viz., at 10 a.m., also at one and seven o'clock in the afternoon and evening. Prof. Fritz Hartman's silver cornet band, Herr Hessler's celebrated brass and string bands, Mons. Joseph Mesmer's French cornet band, and the great orchestra Polyhymnia, will enliven the community with their choicest rhapsodies, in alternate succession, while passing through the streets.'
The bill concludes with the following announcement, eminently characteristic of the people, and of Barnum in particular: - 'Tickets will be carefully but rapidly dispensed, not only by BEN LUSBIE, Esq., the "Lightning Ticket Seller," whose achievement of disposing of tickets at the rate of 6,000 per hour is one of the sensational features of the great free show, but from several ticket waggons, and also from the elegant carriage of Mr Barnum's Book Agent, who furnishes Tickets FREE to all buyers of the Life of P. T. Barnum, written by himself, reduced from $3.50 to $1.50.’
Circuses on such a scale as this, and many similar concerns now travelling in the United States, can only be conducted successfully by those who combine a large amount of reserve capital with the requisite judgment, experience, and energy for undertakings so great and onerous. There are in that country, though its population is much less and scattered over an area far more extensive than that of Great Britain, many more circuses than exist in this country, and most of them organized on a scale which can be matched in England only by Sanger's. Conducted as such enterprises are in America, under conditions unknown in this country, a bad season is ruin to circus proprietors whose reserve capital is insufficient to enable them to hold their own against a year's losses, maintain their stud during the winter in idleness, and take the field with undiminished strength and untarnished splendour in the following spring.
American circus proprietors, managers, performers, and all connected with them, will not soon forget the season of 1869, which ruined several concerns, sapped the strength of more, and disappointed all. 'During the winter of 1868-9,' writes an American gentleman, fully acquainted with the subject, 'the most extensive preparations were made by them. New canvases were bought, new wagons built, the entire paraphernalia refitted, and considerable expense gone to for what they all anticipated would be a prosperous season. The rainy term struck a good many of the shows in the western country as soon as they got fairly on the road, and some of them did not see the sun any day for three weeks. This proved disastrous, as it put them back several weeks. The rainy weather made the roads in a horrible condition and almost impassable, while in some parts of the far west one concern came to a dead stand for a week, not being able to get along with the heavy wagons through a country that had to be forded. In this manner several concerns lost many of their stands. Then, when they did strike a clear country, business did not come up to expectations. It is very doubtful if, out of the twenty-eight circuses and menageries that started out in April and May, more than six concerns came home with the right side of a balance-sheet. Of this number were the European, Bailey's, Stone and Murray's, and two or three of the menageries. Some of the other shows managed by close figuring to worry through the season and come home with their horses pretty well jaded out, their wagons worn, and their canvas in a dilapidated condition. There were other shows that collapsed before the season was half over.
'Profiting by experience, and having not much better hopes for next season, scarcely a manager went heavily into preparations during the winter for the summer's campaign. The general impression with all the old and experienced managers was that it was going to be another hard one for them to pull through, and could they have made any satisfactory disposal of their live stock, they would willingly have done so sooner than go through such another summer as the last one. Some of the old managers believe in "Never say die," and launched out a little more boldly than the rest, believing that "Nothing venture, nothing win." The big concerns that have wealthy managers, who can stand a few weeks of bad luck, hold out; but there are several new managers getting into the business - as well as several old ones - who have just money enough to get their shows on the road. These are the concerns that go by the board first, should times be bad, for, having no money to fall back on, the "jig's up." There are many shows that go on the road without a dollar in the treasury, comparatively speaking. They manage to crawl along by paying no salaries, their daily receipts just about meeting their hotel bill for keep of men and horses. Finally, they reach a town, the weather is very stormy, and the receipts do not come up to the daily expense. The consequence is the landlord of the hotel has to accompany the show to the next stand to get his money, and in some instances keep along for two or three days.
'I know of a circus that once travelled through Vermont and did a good business, but on their return home through New York State met with five weeks of horrible business, the weather being rainy nearly every day. There were from two to three landlords accompanying the show all the time to collect back bills, and as fast as one was dropped another would be taken on. In one town one landlord, who had been along for nearly a week, grew out of patience, and, becoming desperate, had the canvas attached, and as soon as the company got ready to start for the next town it was hauled down to a stable under charge of the sheriff. Of course there was no use of the show going to the next town without a canvas, so at last the sheriff kindly consented to take two of the baggage horses for the debt, and they were left behind. This caused a delay, and the canvas did not arrive in the next town until it was too late to give the afternoon show. This is only one of the hundreds of little events that transpire during the tenting season.
'But the greatest trouble experienced by circus managers is the attempt on the part of crowds of roughs to gain free admittance to the circus. In a body they go to the door and attempt to pass; upon being stopped, they show fight. If they are worsted, they soon re-appear on the scene, considerably strengthened in numbers, and they either cut the guy ropes and let down the canvas, or they get into a fight with the circus boys. Generally speaking, serious results follow, and if one of the citizens of the town is hurt the concern is followed to the next town and hunted like dogs, and probably the same scenes occur there. There are several towns where trouble is generally looked for. West Troy, N. Y., is one of these, and we could mention half a dozen others. In scarcely one of these towns are the police strong enough to break up these regular circus riots. A circus manager is compelled to pay to the corporation a heavy license fee for the privilege of showing in the town, a goodly tax for ground rent for pitching his canvas, he is charged exorbitantly for everything he wants during his stay there, and he has a United States licence also to pay, and it is but justice that the corporation should be prepared beforehand, and see that said manager's property is protected.'
Next to Barnum's, the best organized and appointed circuses now travelling are Van Amburgh's, Robinson's, and Stone and Murray's. Van Amburgh and Co. own two menageries, one of which accompanies the circus. It will surprise persons acquainted only with English circuses to learn that the staff of the combined shows comprises a manager and an assistant manager, advertiser, treasurer, equestrian director, riding-master, band leader, lion performer, elephant man, doorkeeper, and head ostler, besides grooms, tent-men, &c., to the number, all told, of nearly a hundred. The number of horses, including those used for draught, is about a hundred and forty.
In 1870, the management adopted the plan of camping the horses and providing lodgings and board for the entire company, so as to be independent of hotel and stable keepers, whose demands upon circus companies are said to have often been extortionate. To this end, they had constructed a canvas stable, and two large carriages, eighteen feet long, to be set eighteen feet apart, with swinging sides, was to form a house eighteen feet by thirty. This is their hotel, and the cooking is done in a portable kitchen, drawn by four horses. Fifty men are lodged and boarded in this construction, which is called, after the manager, Hyatt Frost, the Hotel Frost. Among the cooking utensils provided for the travelling kitchen is a frying-pan thirty inches in diameter, which will cook a gross of eggs at once.
Robinson, the manager of the concern known as the Yankee Robinson Consolidated Shows, combines a menagerie and a ballet troupe with a circus, the former containing a group of performing bears. The parades of this circus are organized on a great scale, and usually present some feature of novelty, or more than ordinary splendour. A new Polyhymnia, used as an advertising car, and which produces a volume of sound equal to that of a brass band, was added to its attractions in 1870. The Hayneses or Senyahs, who performed at several of the London music-halls a few years ago, and whose performance has been described in a previous chapter, were at that time in the company, and had been during the previous winter at the Olympic Theatre, Brooklyn. There also another female gymnast known to the frequenters of metropolitan music-halls, namely, Madlle Geraldine, appeared that season. Robinson is said to be the only man that so far has been successful as a circus manager, performer, and Yankee comedian, having appeared with considerable success as a representative of Yankee characters at Wood's Museum and the Olympic Theatre, New York, as well as in other cities.
Stone and Murray's circus enjoyed, until Barnum took the field, a reputation second to none in the Union. 'Wherever they have been,' says the writer already quoted, 'they have left a good name behind them, and they give a really good circus entertainment, Everything about the show presents a neat appearance, and the company are noted for behaving themselves wherever they appear.' This is the circus in which two or three of the numerous and talented Cooke family performed during the season of 1870, together with Jeannette Elsler, who in 1852 performed at Batty's Hippodrome, being then a member of Franconi's company. Charles Bliss, now in Barnum's company, and William Ducrow, were also members of Stone and Murray's company four years ago. For the parade, this circus has a band chariot, drawn by forty horses; and in 1870, as an additional outside attraction, Madlle Elsler made an ascent on a wire from the ground to the top of the pavilion, a feat which she had performed eighteen years previously at Batty's Hippodrome.
Forepaugh's 'zoological and equestrian aggregation,' as the show is called, combines a circus with a menagerie, and possesses no fewer than three elephants and as many camels. Adam Forepaugh is the proprietor of this show, which must not be confounded with Gardner and Forepaugh's circus and menagerie, which was organized in 1870 by the amalgamation of Gardner and Kenyon's menagerie with James Robinson's circus. Kenyon retired from the former in 1869, and John Forepaugh, brother of Adam, took his place. The two elephants and other animals forming the zoological collection belong, however, to Adam Forepaugh, from whom they are hired on a per centage arrangement. Madlle Virginie, who appeared at the Holborn Amphitheatre a few years ago, has since been travelling with Adam Forepaugh; while Gardner and Forepaugh's circus has included in its company J. M. Kelly, brother of George Kelly, the champion vaulter, whose double somersaults over a dozen horses will long linger in the memory of those who witnessed the feat in the same arena.
Joel Warner, who was formerly Adam Forepaugh's advertiser, started a circus and menagerie on his own account in 1871. 'He said,' writes the gentleman who relates the story of the origin of Barnum's show, 'that he was "bound to have some money, or die;" and he added that he would "fifty per cent. rather have the money than die." Well, he started out, and met with but poor encouragement; still his indomitable energy kept him above-water until he got into Indiana, when he found, to his utter consternation, that he was to meet with strong opposition. "Well," he said, "there's just one way to get out of this," and Warner quietly disappeared. Two or three days after a travel-worn stranger stepped into the counting-room of Russell, Morgan, & Co.'s great printing house, in Cincinnati, and, sitting himself down in a chair, exclaimed: - "Well, here I am, and here I'll stay." It was Warner, and the way that man disturbed the placid bosom of quart-bottles of ink was a warning to writists. For two weeks he sat at a desk running off "proof" from his pen, while the printers ran it off from the press, and when he got through, J. E. Warner & Co.'s Menagerie and Circus was among the best advertised shows in America. He courted the muses too, and fair poetry shed her light upon Warner's wearied brain, while she tipped his fingers with:
One summer's eve, amid the bowers
Of Grand river's peaceful stream,
Sleeping 'mong the breathing flowers,
Joel Warner had a dream:
Argosies came richly freighted,
Birds and beasts, from every land,
At his calling came and waited,
Till he raised his magic hand."
The magic hand," was raised, and Hoosiers and Michiganders filled it with "rocks." I met him in the summer at Fort Wayne. "Well, Warner, what success?" I asked. "Red hot!" was the answer, and off he started to hire every bill-board and billposter and newspaper in the town. As an advertiser he stands "ever so high," and as a gentleman he is, as Captain Cattle remarked of his watch, equalled by few and excelled by none."
'One day Charley Castle - of course, everybody knows Charley Castle, and has heard him mention Syracuse - one day Charley Castle lost a beautiful topaz from a ring, and after a thorough search he gave it up as gone; “still," said he, "I'll give two dollars to the finder if he returns it." Warner quietly walked across the street to the dollar-store and bought a glass stone which bore a remarkable resemblance to the one lost. Laying it in a corner; he sat down, and in a few moments delighted Castle by pointing out his lost gem. It fitted the setting exactly, and Charley was happy. Well," said Warner, "I won't ask you for the two dollars, Charley, but you must set 'em. up." "All right." They were set up accordingly, and it cost three dollars exactly. A short time after, Castle made a startling discovery - his beautiful topaz was beautiful glass. There was war in that camp, and in order to move Charley Castle it is only necessary to go and whisper "topaz" in his ear.
'But Castle is full of tricks too. Out in Ohio, when he was agent of O'Brien's big show - " Great Monster Menagerie, National Natural Kingdom and Aviary of Exotic Birds" - that's what he calls it - a landlord gave him a cross word. "Hitch up them horses," he shouted to his groom, and leaving the landlord a left-handed blessing, he drove three miles away, and showed in an open farm, to a crowded house. Landlords and showmen often have little passages, and generally the showmen come out winners. I remember a landlord in a southern town, who once contracted to keep fifty men, and when the show arrived he had just ten beds in the house. This was rough on the showmen, but the way the landlord suffered was enough to "point a moral and adorn a tale." '
Bailey's circus also combines a menagerie with the attractions of the arena, and the former, which includes two large elephants and no fewer than ten camels, is exhibited during the winter at Wood's Museum, New York. Though called Bailey's, George Bailey is only the junior partner and general director, the senior partners being Avery Smith and John Nathans, who are also the proprietors, in partnership with George Burnell, of the European Circus. Sebastian and Romeo, now travelling with Barnum's show, were performing in this circus a few years ago, together with George Derious, a gymnast who, in 1869, performed some sensational feats at the Bowery theatre, New York.
The European circus of Smith, Nathans, and Burnell travels with a company of a hundred and twenty-five persons, and a stud of a hundred and thirty-four horses. The famous Frank Pastor was lately the principal equestrian, and the Conrads were among the gymnastic artistes.
French's circus was the first in America in which the system of lodging and boarding the company and stabling the horses, independently of hotels, was introduced. The cooking and dining carriage is eighteen feet long, eight feet wide, and ten feet high; and there are several large carriages for sleeping purposes. French employs a hundred and twenty persons, all told, and his stud numbers as many horses, besides two elephants, fifteen camels, and two cages of performing lions.
Campbell's show, which comprises a circus and a menagerie, is a good one of the second, or rather third, class. The circus company lately included Madame Brown (better known as Marie Tournaire), Madlle Josephine, and Sam Stickney - a name still famous in the arena. The zoological collection includes an elephant and a group of performing lions, tigers, and leopards, who are exercised by Signor Balize.
There remains to be noticed several tenting circuses of minor extent and repute, but which make a figure that would be more highly esteemed in this country. Wheeler and Cushing have a band of silver cornet players, and their company lately included Madame Tournaire, Annie Warner, and Pardon Dean, the oldest English equestrian in America. Wilson's circus included the world-famed Brothers Risareli in the company just before their appearance at the Holborn Amphitheatre. Johnson's circus was strengthened a few years ago by amalgamation with Levi North's show, which included a group of performing animals, and is now able to give a parade extending to the length of a mile. Older's circus and menagerie is a fourth-rate concern, but yet possesses two camels.
Thayer's circus was broken up by the bad business of 1869, and the stud and effects sold by auction. A new concern was organized in the same name in the following year by James Anderson, with fifty people and as many horses, Thayer being manager, Samuel Stickney equestrian director, and Charlie Abbott - the vanishing clown of a few years ago at the Holborn Amphitheatre - as clown. Ward's circus started in 1869, and broke up the same year, when Bunnell and Jones bought the stud and effects at auction for little more than one-seventh of the money they had cost, and started it again in Ward's name, in 1870. Lake's circus was sold by auction about the same time, when the ring horses were bought by Van Amburgh, and the draught stock by Noyes. There are three other circuses - Watson's, De Haven's, and Alexander Robinson's - which though they bear the high-sounding names of the Metropolitan, the Sensation, and the International Hippo-comique and World Circus, are of comparative small importance.
Besides these, there are some circuses which travel the Southern States, where the climate enables them to tent all the year round. Foremost among these is Noyes' circus, a great feature in the parade of which is the globe band chariot, drawn by eight cream-coloured horses. Hemmings, Cooper, and Whitby's show combines with the circus a small menagerie, and includes an elephant and a cage of performing lions. Grady's circus lately numbered in its company Madame Macarte, who formerly travelled with Batty, and whose real name is, I believe, Macarthy. John Robinson's circus and menagerie also possesses an elephant, and the zoological collection has been greatly enlarged of late years. Stowe's circus appears to be a very small concern.
Most of the American circuses, including all the most considerable, are accompanied, as before stated, by what are termed 'side shows,' of which the following account is given by the gentleman to whom I am indebted for the statement of the troubles of American circuses in the beginning of this chapter. 'The side show,' he says, 'is an institution of itself - one in which considerable money is invested with some concerns, while with others not so much capital is required. What is known as a side show is an entertainment given in a small canvas in close proximity to the big show. To secure the sole privilege of conducting this entertainment on the same ground as used by the big concern, and for being permitted to accompany it on its summer tour, a considerable bonus has to be paid. There is a great rivalry among side showmen to secure the privilege with the larger concerns, as a great deal of money is made during a tenting season. Some of these entertainments consist of a regular minstrel performance or the exhibition of some monstrosity, such as a five-legged cow, a double-headed calf, collection of anacondas, sword- swallowers, stone-eaters, dwarf, giant, fat woman, and anything else, no matter what, so long as it is a curiosity.
'The modus operandi of running aside show is as follows: - The manager has a two-horse waggon, into which he packs his canvas and traps. He starts off early in the morning, so as to reach the town in which the circus is to exhibit about an hour before the procession is made. He drives to the lot, and in less than an hour every preparation has been completed and the side show commences, with the "blower" taking his position at the door of the entrance, and in a stentorian voice expatiating at large upon what is to be seen within for the small sum of ten cents; sometimes the admission is twenty-five cents. The term "blower" is given to this individual because he talks so much and tells a great deal more than what proves to be true. A crowd always gathers about a circus lot early in the morning, and many a nimble tenpence is picked up before the procession is made in town. When that is over and has reached the lot, an immense crowd gathers around to see the pitching of the big canvas, and from them many drop in to see the side show. As soon as the big show opens for the afternoon performance the "kid" show, as the side show is called, shuts up and does not open again until about five minutes before the big show is out. Then the "blower" mounts a box or anything that is handy, and goes at it with a will, "blowing" and taking in the stamps at the same time. This is kept up for about half an hour, by which time all have gone in that can, while the rest have departed. The side show entertainment lasts about half an hour, when the doors are closed and remain so until the evening performance of the big show is over. And then, with a huge torch-ball blazing each side of him, the "blower" commences. This torch ball consists of balls of cotton wicking, such as was used in olden times for oil lamps; having been soaked well in alcohol and lighted, it is fixed upon an iron rod, about six feet long, which is placed upright in the ground and the ball will burn for half an hour or more; two balls will make the whole neighbourhood nearly as light as day.
'The receipts from some side shows reach over $150 a day, and with the larger concerns a still greater amount than this is taken. I know of a side show that travelled with a circus company through Vermont and the Canadas, about ten years ago, that actually came home in the fall with more money than the circus had; not that it took more money, but it did a big business, and had little or no expense. The side show belonged to the manager of the big show, and consisted of a couple of snakes, a cage of monkeys, and a deformed negro wench, who was represented as a wild woman, caught by a party of slaves in the swamps of Florida. While the big show did a poor business the "kid" show made money. Some of the circus managers do not dispose of the side show privilege, but run it themselves. Then, again, the manager of the big show rents out what is called the "concert privilege;" that is, the right of giving a minstrel entertainment within the canvas of the big show as soon as the regular afternoon and evening performances are over. This consists of a regular first part and variety minstrel entertainment, given by the circus performers, who can either play some musical instrument or dance; occasionally some of the ladies of the company dance. The show lasts about three quarters of an hour, and the charge is twenty-five cents. The clown announces to the audience, just before the big show is over, that the entertainment will be given immediately after, and those who wish to witness it can keep their seats. Several parties then skirmish among the assembled multitude and cry, "tickets for the concert, twenty-five cents," and just before the entertainment commences the tickets are collected.'
New York and New Orleans are provided with permanent buildings in which circus performances are given during the winter by companies which travel in the tenting season. At the New York Amphitheatre the company comprises some of the best equestrians and gymnasts, American and European, whose services can be secured, such as Robert Stickney, William Conrad (who, with his brother, will be remembered by many as gymnasts at the Alhambra), and Joe Pentland, one of the oldest and best clowns in the Union. The stud comprises between forty and fifty horses, all used in turn in the ring, as the summer campaign is made by rail, and only the principal towns are visited. Mr Lent is lessee and manager in New York.
The New Orleans Amphitheatre combines a menagerie with its circus attractions, and is owned by C. T. Ames. There are twelve camels attached to it, and a ‘mio,' whatever that may be, the animal being as unknown to naturalists, by that name at least, as the 'vedo' of Sanger's circus. Lucille Watson, now with Barnum's company, was previously a member of the New Orleans troupe.
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Last modified November 2005.